Just how do you measure the impact of communities?
I had the pleasure of discussing this question with Darcy Bevelacqua, a database marketing expert now looking at the impact of social media on business performance.
1) It is the right question since impact is much more than what might happen via advertising. For a discussion of that view of 'impact' see the iMedia interview with Steve Patrizi of LinkedIn.
2) All the dots between cause and effect aren't connected and may not even be connectable.
3) It is not a short term stimulus response problem.
Communities, by their very nature, are participative. So the business questions become: Is it in our interest to participate or support a given community? What can we gain from participating in this group?
It may be a time for a combination of both inductive and deductive logic where we have both some data and some ideas. Ultimately it may be that we can simply do our day jobs better because we have a deeper understanding of how our products and services are used.
If it weren't for customers, this would be easy.